March 12, 2012

Is Landscape Design a Product or a Service?

I cam across this question as a discussion of architecture on a blog, and it first it seemed kind of silly. I mean, this is a service industry, and design is a service. Right? As I thought about it I realized that a lot of folks actually view landscape design as a product. They need a new backyard so they go to the landscape designer store, buy a design, and leave the store and go to the contractor. Or, they might even go with a contractor who gives away free “designs”. Sure, there’s some customization, but if I buy custom furniture it’s still a product. In their eyes, that set of drawings and supporting documentation is the product they’ve purchased, that interaction is closed and done, let’s move forward.

Not so fast.

Landscape design is a service. I view a product as something a client purchases with little or no customization and really, with little input into the finished product. More importantly, once the client purchases the product, all the decisions are final. Any actions that follow are dictated by the product, not the other way around. Let me give an example to explain.

This is my favorite quote ever, from Hugh MacLeod (click to visit his site)

We’re breaking ground tomorrow on a patio installation in Alexandria. Naturally the design consultation involved lots of conversation about personal style, likes and dislikes, and all that sort of thing. I include some revision time in my contract so we decided to make some changes, and we really dialed in on what would work for how they wanted to use the space. The design has been completed for several months, and in that time there has been a lot of back and forth with the homeowners before we finally selected materials, phases to complete, and the contractors (in my opinion, this is one more x in the “service” column). At one point I showed the homeowners a travertine paver catalog and Mrs. X loved one of the blends. Well, as it turned out, that distributor had gone belly up so we went with a different material palette. They inked the deal but she seemed really lukewarm about it. I hate lukewarm. This is supposed to be fun.

Thus began my quest, and as luck would have it I was able to find a very similar travertine style through another stoneyard. Even better, I got a great price on it, discussed it with the contractor, and was able to swap materials at no additional cost to the client.

Landscape design is a very involved process that requires we not only understand the site, but the homeowner. My goal is to take the homeowner all the way through the process from conceptual design to deciding where to put the chaise lounge on the finished patio. Anyone selling design as a just a product is missing the entire point.

 

 

David Marciniak